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Dollars for Tech

Online buyback sites let you cash in on older, still useful gadgets

Money flying out from a computer screen, How to Make Money with Old Gadgets and Electronic (Getty Images)

Get a financial boost by trading in your old gadgets for cash. — Getty Images

En español | So you're craving that new iPad Air, although the tablet you have is perfectly usable. Fueled by a barrage of advertising, your urge to upgrade your smartphone, tablet, laptop, camera or other high-tech gadget can become a never-ending drain on your pocketbook.

And if you succumb to the pitch, what do you do with your old stuff? An increasing number of buyback and trade-in programs give consumers a financial boost by taking in their old equipment for cash. Barbara Cox, a 49-year-old marketing manager who lives in San Francisco, wanted to sell her iPhone 4 and buy an iPhone 5 this year. She says a friend recommended gazelle.com.

Her iPhone was in good shape, she says, although the home button wasn't working. Gazelle offered her $100. She sent in the phone and received a PayPal payment of $150 when the device was determined to be in better-than-expected condition.

"It was a seamless and easy process," Cox says. "And for them to come back and pay more was a nice surprise."

The buyback business is big business — and getting bigger. Anthony Scarsella, the chief gadget officer at gazelle.com, which was started in 2008, says a 2012 survey showed only 11 percent of Americans reported trading in a smartphone online. The most recent survey shows that 30 percent of Americans who bought a smartphone in the past 12 months plan to trade in their old one online, he says.

The re-commerce market in the U.S. is estimated to be $7 billion today, and according to Gartner, a Stamford, Conn., research firm, the market will increase to $14 billion by 2017, Scarsella says.

While some sites deal only in smartphones, others take tablets and more. A few will buy your phone and almost anything else — including games, PCs, videos and cameras.

Generally you'll be asked to rate the condition of your device and you'll get an immediate quote. If you like the offer, you mail in the unit; it will be inspected and a value confirmed. If you accept the final offer, payment will be on the way.

If you want to sell your used cellphone at uSell.com, for example, you will be asked to describe its condition. The company will then share that information with its network of professional buyers, who will make you an offer. You choose the buyer and send in the phone. The buyer will inspect it, and if your description of model and condition matches, you have a deal and payment will be sent via check or PayPal. One example: A recent top offer for an iPhone 4S was $127. Similarly, at nextworth.com you share information about your device, get a quote and decide whether the deal works for you. A recent quote for that iPhone 4S topped out at $150. Nextworth partners with Target and will pay you with a Target gift card, a Discover prepaid card or a check, or through PayPal.

At gazelle.com you receive payment in the form of an Amazon gift card or a check, or through PayPal. At Apple.com you'll get an Apple Store gift card for selling an older iPhone, iPad, desktop or notebook computer that can be reused.

In assessing the condition of your device, many buyback services will want to know if the gadget is in perfect condition or has scratches, dust under the glass, missing buttons or cracked hardware. The various sites will walk you through their condition reports, which can vary widely in the amount of detail required.

Large retailers such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart, eBay and Amazon offer ways to help you finance your upgrades.

For example, Best Buy has an online trade-in center, bestbuytradein.com. At the center, you'll receive an estimate of the value of the device you wish to sell. If you're OK with the offer, you register with the center and ship the device to Best Buy. A gift card will be mailed to you within 10 days of the item's arrival. You can also trade in your device at a Best Buy store.

Wal-Mart has a trade-in program that gives customers credit for their old iPads or smartphones — up to $300 toward the purchase of a new tablet or smartphone. Customers can go to participating stores to make the deal. Wal-Mart also has an online trade-in program, at walmart.com, for a wide range of gadgets.

Amazon.com has a trade-in program in which you can send your devices to a third-party merchant in exchange for an Amazon gift card.

And over at eBay, a feature dubbed My Gadgets at ebay.com/own allows sellers and buyers to estimate the current value of devices based on the average price from recent eBay transactions.

When you're ready to sell, visit several sites to compare prices and find the buyback process that works best for you. You generally can track shipments via FedEx or UPS. And if you have problems receiving payment, the sites provide email addresses or toll-free numbers to use to straighten out any problems.

Steve Prosinski is a freelance writer for AARP Media.

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